Slings come in several varieties – sized, cocoon (also called pouch) style slings and more adjustable ring slings.
Right now I’m using the sized sling for Anna that you can see in the photo above. You can tell that she is much less secure in the sling than in the wrap, but it still creates a way for me to carry her about with some extra support. I keep my sized sling in my diaper bag – it’s small enough that it fits easily, and it’s perfect for going from the car to the school to pick up my kids. Pouch-style slings like this come in a huge variety of woven fabrics, and they can look quite elegant – like the one I’m wearing. You can used these slings for a hip carry with older children.
I don’t currently own a ring sling; it’s on my list of things to make. Ring slings are very simple – all you need is rings that are tested to hold your child’s weight, and a length of fabric. Ring slings can do everything a pouch sling can do, but they are more adjustable. The adjustability means they also require more fabric than a sized sling.
Please note that baby slings, especially, can be used incorrectly. Your baby should always be upright – not sideways – and you need to make sure that they can breathe easily. Any babywearing should be a chance for you to be more aware of your baby – not less. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued some helpful guidelines for safely carrying babies in slings, which I recommend reading.
I remember carrying my youngest brother and sister in a backpack-style structured carrier in the 1990s. These frame backpacks have mostly been replaced by soft structured carriers – like the ERGO baby carrier, which we own. While I don’t use the ERGO much for little babies, I love soft structured carriers for heavier babies, especially once they are old enough for a back carry. Johnny lived in the ERGO carrier for much of his babyhood, happily observing life from a safe spot. Our ERGO wins points for being the one carrier Mike is happy to use, and I find it to be the most surreptitious-nursing-friendly carrier!
Asian Inspired Baby Carriers
Mei Tai style and other Asian-inspired carriers for me fall somewhere in between soft structured carriers and wrap carriers. I love the carrier below (holding 17-month-old Lily), which is made out of a soft flannel material. I feel that Mei Tai carriers offer more support than a sling (because the weight is distributed across both shoulders and both hips), but a little less support than a good structured carrier. Like a structured carrier, they can be used for front, back, or hip carries, but your baby usually cannot face out. A Mei Tai carrier won’t hold your baby as securely as a wrap, but they are much easier to put on and take off. Made from the right fabric, Mei Tai carriers can look quite elegant.
I own all of these carriers. Right now I mostly use the sling and the wrap carrier, but as Anna grows I suspect that I will shift to using the Mei Tai and ERGO more. I find that I come back to my ERGO (for babies four months and up) and wrap (for babies under four months) over and over – so if I could only own one, it would be one of those. The wrap isn’t hard, once you learn how to do it, and the ERGO provides the best weight distribution out of the carriers I have. However, I think that both sling and Mei Tai carriers look more elegant, and they also take up less space in a diaper bag – and beautiful, affordable handmade versions of both can be found on Etsy.
So, to summarize, here are the pros and cons of each one, from my point of view:
- Pros: Great support for mom AND baby, versatile once you get the hang of wrapping. Can look elegant with the right fabric. Baby is held very securely.
- Cons: It’s a lot of fabric, which can make it hard to put on if you’re out and about. And many people are too intimidated by the wrapping to give it a go (it’s really not that hard – remember, I couldn’t master the Guatemalan back carry but I’ve got this down!)
- Pros: Takes up almost no space in a diaper bag, can look very elegant.
- Cons: Not the best support since weight is distributed across a single shoulder and the opposing hip, and baby is not held as securely as any of the other carriers.
- Structured carriers
- Pros: Great support, dad-friendly, good for surreptitious nursing.
- Cons: Not ideal for tiny babies, not as elegant as the other three options.
- Mei Tai
- Pros: good support, less bulky than a structured carrier, and can look more elegant than a structured carrier.
- Cons: You lose the padding you get from a structured carrier, and I don’t consider it ideal for tiny babies – although two of my sisters loved using it with their newborns.